One Hundred Years Ago: Round 11, 1st July, 1911

A long time after 1911, a young Bob Dylan sang “when you got nothin’ you got nothin’ to lose”, as a young man would.

There’s no evidence Bob had ever heard of Collingwood when he wrote that line, but it pretty well explains much of the motivation behind the founding of the Collingwood Football Club, and the impetus driving the distinctive blend of fanaticism and parochialism that has never really left it – for good or ill – in subsequent years.

The Collingwood club was born of the pressing need for ‘a suburb crippled from birth’, ‘afflicted with a deserved inferiority complex’,  which was  ‘heightened by the scorn of neighbouring suburbs and the Melbourne press’  to ‘seek vindication of their habitat and vengeance against their neighbours’.

Topography and social circumstance had conspired against Collingwood at the beginning. From ‘the Eastern Hills at Smith Street, a sharp slope descends eastward till it reaches Wellington St’. From there, the land to the east ‘extends in a remarkably level manner to the Yarra river’. This is the Collingwood Flat, which was ‘preordained as a slum’ from birth.

The Flat was the product of rampant and rapacious capitalism in mid-19th century Melbourne. Though incorporated as Melbourne’s third municipality in 1854, Collingwood was outside the governance of the Melbourne Corporation. It remained ‘unfettered by even minimal building regulations’ until 1874, making it a ‘speculator’s dream’. Tiny lots fit only for shanties were subdivided according to the limits of land developers’ greed. ‘Noxious industries proliferated because of impoverishment, lack of regulations and the proximity of the Yarra’ to act as a drain. Natural drainage from the west ‘regularly inundated it and seeped into dwellings erected there’, and the impervious clay soils left pools of stagnant water proliferating for most of the year. But land and rent was (understandably) cheap, so impoverished people flocked to the area.

In such circumstances many will succumb while others will aspire. A young resident of the Flat called Wren might gaze up at the cliffs which housed the wealthy just across the river, imagining how he would one day join them. Likewise did the Collingwood community seek to rise.

Founded in 1892 from the remnants of the Britannia football club and the Capulet cricket team, Collingwood football club became a focal point for those aspirations. Based from the beginning at Victoria Park, the club had won a VFA  premiership by 1896, then joined the breakaway VFL competition. The 1896 flag cemented the relationship between club and locality. Those with “nothin’ to lose” now at least had a team to be proud of.

Before the club adopted the Magpie as it’s symbol it had been known (unofficially) as ‘the Purloiners’, but their primary interest was in conquest. As such, their inspiration came more from the discipline and unity of the Roman Legions than the playing fields of Eton or Rugby. Outsiders might also suggest they added rather too many of the Spartans’ social inclinations to the mix.

In this sense the rise of the Collingwood club is representative of the broader movement of working class people into sporting pursuits, and the resultant clashes of attitude and outlook that have been apparent as we have looked at this season. People with fewer social options saw little point other than to play hard. Leave it to those who could afford it to treat their sport as a lark.

That was the perspective of many players and fans. But when it comes to football in the Melbourne cultural context, many levels are always interacting at once. Those who ran Collingwood were usually of the professional classes, and the club rarely missed an opportunity to use favourable people of influence to pursue its aims. The club also benefited the commercial interests of Smith Street, amongst others. It was as apparent in 1911 (or 1892) as it is today that standing in a football club gives you standing in the broader community. It can be a very useful platform for wider agendas. Collingwood has been like every other football club in that respect.

It is often the case that disadvantaged people look past the wider causes of their disadvantage to focus on those in plain view. For Collingwood, Fitzroy fitted the role of ‘a bordering suburb one notch higher on the totem pole’ which considered itself better. Relations with Fitzroy were ‘hostile from the beginning’. From up on the hill, Fitzroy’s sewerage and storm water flowed eastward across the Flat. Many in Collingwood took this as a civic affront. The slow (over 40 years) enclosure of the Reilly Street Drain to the Yarra only served to worsen the sporadic inundation and inflame local sensibilities.

When Fitzroy got a senior football team, Collingwood must have one too. When the Maroons proved themselves the early power of the VFL, the Black and White had to match them.

In this era, no game between Collingwood and Fitzroy was without subtext. And few passed without incident.

So none of the faithful who flocked to Victoria Park for round 11 were shocked to see a fight break out in the second quarter. When the melee cleared, Collingwood’s star full forward Dick Lee faced the only report charge of his 230-game career, owing to his rather obvious ‘attempt’ to strike Maroon Bill Walker, who had successfully raised the ire of many a Magpie that day.

Walter Henry ‘Dick’ Lee was the first of an illustrious line of champion Collingwood full forwards.  Son of club co-founder (and longstanding trainer) Wal Lee, Dick was as local as they come. Though only 175cm tall he could fly with the best or take a turn in defence if needs be. Over 17 seasons he kicked a (remarkable for the time) 707 goals and led the lead goal kicking table outright a record eight times. In 1910 he’d been crowned Champion of the Colony, but 1911 was proving a major personal letdown.

Like many Magpie stars, Lee was below his best this day, and Collingwood was lucky to only trail by 1 point at 3/4 time. As late as the final 10 minutes a Lee miss put the Pies 1 point up, but Maroon goals to Percy Parratt and Bruce Campbell gave them the local boasting rights, and an 11 point win which saw them replace Collingwood in the top four.

To add to Collingwood laments, Lee was suspended for four weeks at the tribunal.

Campbell kicked 4 goals in this game, making him an unlikely candidate for match winner. He’d played the first three rounds of the season for Carlton (the last against Fitzroy) before the Blues ‘rejected’ him for reasons unspecified. Playing only the second half of the season for Fitzroy, he would head the Maroons’ 1911 goal kicking tally.

While local honour was disputed at Victoria Park, South Melbourne faced a crucial clash with Carlton at the Lake Oval. 25,000 were ‘roused to a high pitch of excitement’ as 2nd hosted 3rd in a high standard game that benefitted from the best playing conditions in several weeks.

Little separated the two sides for the first three quarters and it came down to South Melbourne taking their chances the best, winning 12.8 to 9.11. Bruce Sloss starred for the Bloods kicking 2 goals and, to Observer’s eye, ‘seemed to be all legs and wings at times, but his skill, not less than his pertinacity, were warmly praised’. South’s star forward pairing of Fred Carpenter (4 goals) and Len Mortimer (3) also ‘featured conspicuously’.  For the Blues, Viv Valentine again showed ‘he is the discovery of the season’, whilst Vin Gardiner shone with a 5 goal haul.

Essendon hosted Richmond at East Melbourne, with the Tigers fielding their best team for weeks with the return of Mahoney, Bowden and Macguire. Coming off successive losses, the top team found themselves jumped as Richmond kicked 4 first quarter goals. Thereafter they took control of general play, but were hindered in taking significant scoreboard advantage by their inaccuracy, and an injury to star half forward Paddy Shea. Shea ‘fractured a finger so badly the bone was protruding’. ‘In spite of this he bound it up and continued’.

After finally establishing a lead, the Same Olds had to withstand a fast finish from Richmond and would have been relieved of the 10 point win. Alan Belcher gave sterling service ‘following and defending’ as well as kicking 2 goals, as did Percy Ogden and Ernie Cameron. Vic ‘Flipper’ Thorp starred in defence for the Tigers, showing in his 29th game the qualities he would  reveal over an eventual 262 games for Richmond as their star full back.

Melbourne hosted Geelong in front of a modest crowd of 4,224 at the MCG. The game became a shootout between rival forwards, Fuchsia Harry Brereton kicking 5 goals and the Pivot’s Percy Martini scoring 4.

Even until ¾ time, Melbourne surprised by running out 12 point winners. It was another away loss for Geelong when they had started favourites, and a costly one as well.  Victory would have had them snapping at Collingwood’s heels as they faced them in the following round, with memories of their win at Victoria Park still fresh.

The game at the Junction Oval produced the round’s only blowout, but this time St Kilda were the winning side as they thumped University by ten goals to climb off the bottom. The game was a disaster for the struggling Students, with three significant player injuries leaving the field open for St Kilda to romp home against an undermanned opponent. Stan Martin and Dave Cumming both injured their ankles, rendering them ‘useless’ even though they limped on. The cruellest blow, however, saw star forward Bert Hartkopf ‘severely wrench the cartilage behind the knee’ and be carried off. It was the end of his season.

Amidst the student gloom, St Kilda celebrated a potential new star. Debutant Ernie Sellars, described as a ‘diminutive goal sneak’, kicked a season-high 7 goals in the rout. From local club Grosvenor (in Balaclava), Sellars would kick an impressive 117 goals in only 47 games, before he became another Saint that got away, departing for East Perth at the end of 1913.

With finer weather came the return of the goals, leaving the leading goal kickers table after eleven rounds as follows:

Mortimer (SM) 28

Gardiner (Car) 21

Baxter (Coll) 19

Carpenter (SM) 19

Hartkopf (Uni) 19

Bert Armstrong (Ess) 19

 

Collingwood 3.2   4.2   7.3   9.7 61 Sat 01-Jul-1911 Venue: Victoria Park
Fitzroy 2.0   5.6  6.10 10.12 72 Fitzroy won by 11 pts
South Melbourne 3.3   7.4   8.5  12.8 80 Venue: Lake Oval
Carlton 3.4   5.5   7.7  9.11 65 South Melbourne won by 15 pts
Essendon 2.3   4.6  6.11  7.15 57 Venue: East Melbourne
Richmond 4.0   4.1   5.4   7.5 47 Essendon won by 10 pts
Melbourne 5.0   7.2   8.4  10.7 67 Venue: MCG
Geelong 3.4   4.6   8.7   8.7 55 Melbourne won by 12 pts
St Kilda 2.3   6.7  9.10 15.11 101 Venue: Junction Oval
University 3.1   4.2   4.5   6.5 41 St Kilda won by 60 pts

 

Rd 11 Ladder
ES 11 34 174.0
SM 11 34 151.4
CA 11 28 124.8
FI 11 28 112.2
CW 11 28 103.7
GE 11 22 95.1
ME 11 18 88.9
RI 11 16 82.0
SK 11 8 65.4
UN 11 4 61.6

Sources:

Kill For Collingwood: Richard Stremski

Collingwood At Victoria Park: Glenn McFarlane & Michael Roberts

The Argus

AFL Tables

Encyclopedia of AFL/VFL Footballers: Russell Holmesby & Jim Main

Football’s Black Book: Jim Main

 

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.

Comments

  1. John Butler says

    Hmm…

    A Bill Walker upsetting magpies.

    Phantom, you didn’t happen to come out of the cave 100 years back wearing maroon did you?

  2. Uncanny JB. That would be great, great uncle Phantom.

    I wore the Fitzroy like strip (Old Scotch -Launceston) last century.

    Did upset a Magpie (Claremont – Hobart) full forward in a State Final. He did hit me; on several occasions. (Cocky, grumpy bugger). No reports, apparently, in State finals when the North played the South. This was a good thing as we had a few ring ins as the Tigers and Pies were playing in the VFL GF that day in Melb. Remember that one Tigers? We may have been left wanting in the tuesday Tribunal line up.

    I was not known as a skillful player. More of a persistent niggling old fashioned half back flanker.

  3. Rick Kane says

    Another nice report JB (and not just because you quote His Bobness). This week you gave me a potted history of Collingwood, which helps imagine the place, people and goings-on. Also, a new word – pertinacity. This word is under used in our age but it is a prefect word to describe certain players and play styles in a game. Finally, my fave name was a line ball call between Percy Parratt and Bruce Sloss. Both beautifully onomatopoeic but, as in footy, in the end there can be only one winner. I gave it to Percy Parratt.

  4. johnharms says

    Did I detect a hint of empathy in there JB? The height of decency in this, of all weeks.

  5. Disappointed Rick,

    you have descriminated against how ordinary stock name their stock.

  6. John Butler says

    RK

    I endorse your advocacy of pertinacity. I only hope the Blues show some on Saturday.

    JTH, steady on.

    We’re talking about 100 years ago. A timespan remote enough for socio-economic considerations to overrule football ones.

    That won’t be occurring on Saturday.

  7. Andrew Fithall says

    Thank-you again JB. I know I am enjoying this weekly contribution.

    You seem to revel in the Collingwood losses of 100 years ago, and even others from more recent history. It is a shame you cannot enjoy the present and the immediate future.

    Nice rhyming slang Mr Phantom.

  8. John Butler says

    Your interpretation solely AF. :)

  9. Mark Doyle says

    One of your best recent essays on footy history. I enjoyed the social history stuff. However, a minor point – the area of Collingwood you write about is Abbotsford, which includes the location of Victoria Park and the Collingwood Town Hall. Notwithstanding, that the suburb of Abbotsford is in the Collingwood local government area, the actual suburb of Collingwood is the area between Smith and Hoddle Streets. The Collingwood Football Club was formed in the Grace Darling Hotel which is located in Smith street on the Collingwood side. I believe that the history of the Collingwood footy club main rivalries were as follows: Fitzroy in the early 20th century; Richmond in the 1920’s and 1930’s; Melbourne in the 1950’s and 1960’s and Carlton since the 1970 grand final. I used to enjoy the footy at Vic. Park in 70’s and 80’s – standing on the west side terraces to the right of the Bob Rush Stand. It was always friendly and never intimidating. Collingwood had a lot of supporters of Greek origin and the light hearted banter plus the sharing of a beer at half time was an enjoyable experience. One of my best Vic. Park memories as a Cats supporter was a Geelong win in the 80’s with Mick Mansfield kicking 6 goals.

  10. smokie88 says

    JB
    It’s interesting that the Lakeside crowds seem so healthy in comparison to those at the G.

  11. John Butler says

    Smokie

    South were big drawers at this time. Whereas Melbourne crowds seemed to drop off if they were out of contention (which they usually were in this period).

    Early ski enthusiasts?

  12. John Butler says

    Mark D, thanks for your comments.

    I also believed the Grace Darling was the site of Collingwood’s birth until I researched this piece.

    Richard Stremski debunks this notion. It was the place of Collingwood’s first committee meeting in 1892, but the formation of CFC had already taken place at the City Hotel in Johnson St in 1889 according to him.

    The Grace Darling was a Britannia club haunt, but Britannia had too many Fitzroy (the ‘Slope’) associations for the people of the Flat.

    The people of the Flat essentially pursued a senior club more aggressively than the folk of the Slope. CFC beat out Britannia, and that club split, some joining the nascent CFC, others going to Fitzroy.

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